Rambling Irishman

Thanks to all who listened to this.  I’ve had some interesting feedback, mostly positive.

Perhaps I should have started with a disclaimer and begged your indulgence.  Music is a very complicated endeavour for me because it is more than just about pleasing myself or pleasing others.  I would like to claim, especially in the case of a song like this, that it is partly a spiritual discipline.  By that I mean that a traditional song feels like something greater than myself or anyone who hears it.  The word spirit comes from the Latin word for breath, and a song is exactly that:  an invisible exhalation born in one person’s chest, seeded by his or her culture and experiences, heart and mind, swirling out of their lips, to the air, and into the hearts and minds of others, and sometimes, if it’s lucky, to another singer.  Repeatedly, over centuries sometimes, it is reborn, continually adapting to its symbionts, its singers.  There is one kind of eternal life that is certain to me, and that is that we live on in what we give to the world.  I don’t have enough vanity to think that my cultural influences or my personal tastes are enough to sing one of these songs.  So I often listen carefully to multiple sources for a song like The Rambling Irishman and imitate several traditional singers, as I agree to be the next vessel for the song, the next link in the chain.

Many years ago, my solo album The Whistling Thief was reviewed in The Canadian Folk Music Bulletin.  I remember the reviewer thought it was very silly that I put on a Scottish accent when I sang The Bonnie Ship the Diamond.  I’m sure it could be argued that I didn’t do it well enough, but I think the writer was annoyed that I had even tried.  Why not let the words and the melody speak for themselves without adding a dialect that is not my own?  Why not be satisfied with sharing my voice and my musical skill?  The answer is that that would be unsatisfying to me, just as singing only songs that I wrote myself would be.  I don’t think one person’s perspective on life is enough to fully understand it or the human condition.  If a song doesn’t change you, at least temporarily, how powerful can it be?  If it doesn’t take you outside of yourself, and even out of your comfort zone, how much can it effectively communicate?  If I make no attempt to pronounce the words in the manner of those whaler men along the quay at Peterhead, then will you really hear them?

On the other hand, I realize that I don’t have to be so serious about all this.  It’s just a song.  Some people are going to like or dislike certain things about it, and there’s no way around that.  I should probably remember that I can keep singing whatever way I like, if I like, and I shouldn’t be so sensitive.  I’ll get over it, I guess.

This is a song that I learned when I was about 18 years old. I have hardly sung it since then:

Rambling Irishman on SoundCloud.

1 comment

  • Paul Laverdure

    Paul Laverdure Sudbury, Ontario

    Very interesting song; fascinating vocal control and pitch variations. Thanks.

    Very interesting song; fascinating vocal control and pitch variations. Thanks.

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